Aleksei Mikhailovich Sytsevich summed himself up well enough. "People don't get me. I'm not stupid. I'm simple. Big difference. And when I accept a job, I complete a job. I knock into stuff. It falls down. Sometimes, enough times, I get paid for it. Life is good." (Web of Spider-Man vol. 2 #3)
Born in Eastern Europe, Aleksei found work as a hired thug and somehow came to work for a group of spies. They selected him to take part in an experiment to make him the perfect assassin by bonding him to an unbreakable "skin." The experiment increased his durability and strength enormously and he immediately turned on his creators. Aleksei immediately began to work as a freelance criminal, and his first job was to kidnap John Jameson, the astronaut. Now calling himself The Rhino, Sytsevich crossed into America from Mexico and made his way to New York City to kidnap Jameson. The army pursued him the entire time yet he managed to arrive in New York to complete his job. Spider-Man saved Jameson from the Rhino and eventually found a way to melt the hide off of Sytsevich's body. (Amazing Spider-Man #41 & Amazing Spider-Man #42 & Amazing Spider-Man #43)
Sytsevich continued to work as hired muscle (after a new and improved skin was created), eventually joining the Sinister Syndicate along with other super criminals. The group was sent after the mercenary known as Silver Sable, whom contacted Spider-Man for help. During the battle, Rhino admitted that he hated being a freak and was doing the job to pay for an operation to remove the artificial skin. (Amazing Spider-Man #280) At a later date, Rhino was again working with the Syndicate, whom defeated Spider-Man during a robbery of the Federal Reserve. The others were about to kill the wall crawler when Rhino spoke up, fearing that a murder conviction might make a judge less sympathetic to him, making removal of his skin impossible. (Deadly Foes of Spider-Man #1) Rhino proved to be a traitor to his team mates, and had been working for Wilson Fisk the whole time. Fisk agreed to have his hide removed, but Sytsevich changed his mind at the last minute, as he enjoyed the thrill of crime. (Deadly Foes of Spider-Man #4)
Rhino suffered several more defeats and soon decided to leave America and return to Eastern Europe. His client was the Green Goblin (Harry Osborn), who hired him to attack Peter Parker. Rhino brought a warning him that he knew his secret and that soon, everyone else would know as well. Spider-Man arrived in the nick of time and beat Rhino, who confessed that the Goblin hadn't told him anything about Parker. (Spectacular Spider-Man #190) Sytsevich later attempted to bring his family to America from Europe, originally paying only for his mother and niece, Alexa. Their run down apartment was soon robbed and Aleksei went to get their possessions back. (His family was unaware that he was a criminal.) He found his niece's necklace and some cash from the crooks responsible for the burglary, but his mother was furious with him. She threw him out, denying that he was her son for taking money from criminals. (Amazing Spider-Man Annual #28)
Sytsevich seemed desperate from that point forward to get back into his mother's good graces. Aleksei went to work for the mob, and was soon delivering bribe money to a pro football player. The heroic Green Goblin (Phil Urich) intervened and interrupted the cash transfer. This enraged Rhino, who would be late in meeting with his mother. (Green Goblin #2) Later, he took part in the "Great Game" (a series of battles paid for by the bored and wealthy that pit super humans against each other) and fought the Spider-Man clone known as Kaine. Spider-Man soon joined the fight, and Rhino hoped that he could earn double the cash for killing both Kaine and Spider-Man. He wanted to buy his mother a big screen TV. (Amazing Spider-Man #409)
The effect of being bonded to the artificial skin began to take a toll on Aleksei's mind. While the armor prevented him from being injured, it also prevented him from experiencing physical sensations. Desperate to feel something, Sytsevich tore apart the Jamaica area of Queens. The police arrived and shot Rhino with a rocket, which seemed to momentarily satisfy him. Spider-Man had noticed that Rhino seemed agitated after running into the buildings, screaming "NOTHING!" in frustration. Rhino was eventually defeated by being electrocuted by exposed wires as he stood in a puddle of water. (Sensational Spider-Man #31)
Sytsevich finally found a degree of peace in his life after he married a Russian woman named Oksana. She convinced him to put his life as a criminal behind him and to give up the Rhino suit. Aleksei found work as a bouncer at a casino and was determined to live out his life as a law abiding citizen. That dream was ended when criminals conspired to create a new Rhino, who forced Aleksei to fight him for the right to be called the Rhino. Aleksei and Oksana tried to leave New York and let Spider-Man handle the new Rhino. (Amazing Spider-Man #617) The usurper attacked them and Oksana was killed. Aleksei blamed Spider-Man for not protecting his wife, then went to a meat locker to get a secret Rhino skin. He then hunted down and killed the new Rhino. (Amazing Spider-Man #625)
Rhino survived that battle and soon joined Doctor Octopus and the Sinister Six in their plan to rule the world. Octavius was dying and planned to blackmail the world into submission by accelerating global warming. In addition to their demand to be made overlords, each member of the Six were to be awarded $2 billion. Rhino declined the money, saying he wanted something else. His demands were made known as Spider-Man and the Avengers attacked Octavius's secret base in Guatemala. Aleksei's life had become meaningless since Oksana's death and he only wanted to see the world suffer. Doctor Octopus has planned to use increase global warming anyway and Rhino fully supported him in that regard. Rhino died in the secret compound and took Spider-Man's ally, Silver Sable, to a watery death along with him. (Amazing Spider-Man #687)
Aleksei Sytsevich: Simple or Stupid?
Sytsevich was selected for the experiment to create the Rhino because of his low IQ, under the hopes that he would be easier to control. The question of exactly where he ranks on the IQ spectrum is difficult to say. While he clearly does not have an IQ above 115 (the average score for a college graduate), his intelligence is likely higher than 85.
The standard deviation between levels of IQ is 15 points, ie. a person with an IQ of 116 to 131 (above average IQ) is one standard deviation above a person with an IQ in the range of 100 to 115 (average IQ).
In the Rhino's case, he most likely falls into the range of below average (85 to 100) and average (100 to 115). While the words "simple" and "stupid" are not in any way psychological terminology, the dictionary definitions do make an important point about their meanings.
According to Merriam Webster, "stupid" means "given to unintelligent decisions or acts." On the other hand, "simple" means "lacking in knowledge or expertise."
Aleksei likely never had a strong educational background, making him seem stupid to the scientists that gave him his artificial skin. Yet in all of his adventures as the Rhino, his actions were perfectly rational. When he fought Spider-Man and Cardiac, he saw that the nearby fuel tanks were going to explode and ran for his life. (Amazing Spider-Man #344) If he had an IQ lower than 85, someone would have had to tell him that his life was in danger.
Intelligence is caused by biology, not by education. Yet education obviously has an effect on how a person interacts with the world. A medical examination would need to be conducted on a living Aleksei Mikhailovich Sytsevich to determine if his seemingly low mental faculties were a product of biology or poor education.
Pachyderm Without a Family
Having some kind of family was obviously important to Aleksei, even though it never came about for him. His mother rejected him for being a criminal, and it is hard to say how well they reconciled with each other, if at all. His wife meant a great deal to him but she was murdered in front of him. It is unknown if he ever traveled back to his home country to see his family.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that after his mother threw him out of the apartment, Aleksei re-joined the Sinister Syndicate. When a person is rejected by a group, the disconnect adds to the emotional pain. This pain can be lessened by joining groups that a person feels a strong connection to. Rejection can also lead to increased violence and aggression. In 2001, the Surgeon General issued a report that claimed that rejection was more likely to trigger violence in teens than drug use or gang affiliation.
Sytsevich continued to live a life of violence until he met Oksana. Marriage has proven to be very beneficial to a man's health, more so than to a woman's. Married men report less depression, greater satisfaction with life, better cognitive function and improved blood sugar levels. Being married was probably the best thing that could have happened to Aleksei.
Conversely, Oksana's death was the worst things that could have happened to him. Aleksei was still a fairly young man, which made his grief all the more painful for him. A widower under the age of 65 tends to be significantly more anxious and depressed than those over that age. They also tend to be less satisfied with their social support networks and had more problems with housework, spare time and their jobs. Many widowers report that they are constantly under stress.
All Wrapped Up and Nothing to Feel
One of the stranger episodes in the Rhino's career was the situation where he seemed to loose all sense of physical feeling. This had never happened to him before and not again. His skin at the time may have been faulty, or the episode may have been caused psychologically.
Sensory deprivation was a possible cause of his erratic behavior. Just fifteen minutes without light or sound was enough to trigger hallucinations in otherwise healthy and sane individuals, according to a British study in 2009. The participants reported visual hallucinations, depressed mood and paranoia. Aleksei seemed to show none of those symptoms.
He seemed to be experiencing nothing but numbness. When a person suffers from anxiety, they sometimes feel physically and emotionally numb. (He certainly wasn't emotionally numb; he was in a panic.) It is unknown if his numbness was partial or total body, but this phenomenon often happens in the extremities.
Anxiety numbness has two potential causes: over-activation of the body and hyperventilation. Over-activation is a response to the "flight or fight" phenomenon, where blood is taken away from "unneeded areas" and re-directed to areas that it would be needed, such as the heart and muscles.
Hyperventilation is very common in those with anxiety disorders, particularly a panic disorder or PTSD. Anxiety causes breathing habits to change, making a person breath too quickly, too shallow and breathing in too much oxygen while breathing out too quickly. This breathing is ineffective and takes a toll on the body. In turn, this makes a person more stressed, making the cycle continue and worsen.
Aleksei was certainly in a panicked state of mind as he tore apart that neighborhood in Queens. Hyperventilation was almost a certainty, as was the fact that he was physically over working himself. It is impossible to say what triggered this potential panic attack, perhaps something with his mother or family. Whatever the cause, his rampage only worsened his physical and mental state of being.
Aleksei Mikhailovich Sytsevich, whatever his intelligence level, was a thoughtless, dangerous criminal that took money to cause destruction. He enjoyed the thrill of his work, a symptom of anti social personality disorder. He did have a caring side, as shown for his support of his mother, niece and wife. He does not fully meet the criteria for ASPD, but his love of violence and disregard for its consequences made him an extremely dangerous foe.